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Oxytocin abuse?

The flurry of news stories about the Zurich study lasted all through last week.  (Google News logged 307, to be exact.)

A lot of them focused on the  angle that criminals could use oxytocin to get their marks to trust them, running headlines like "Oxytocin May Present Opportunities for Abuse" after one of the researchers admitted   to Joseph Verrengia of the Associated Press that someone sneaky could, for example, send oxytocin through the air conditioner ducts at an investors' conference and get everyone to put their money in a shady company.

"Of course, this finding could be misused," said Ernst Fehr ... . "I don't think we currently have such abuses. However, in the future it could happen."

Come on, Ernst. In the first place, it's unlikely that you could get enough oxytocin into a room and keep it there long enough to turn people into suckers. One problem with this hormone is that its effects don't last long.

Besides, unless the sleazebags were wearing gas masks, wouldn't they also come under oxytocin's effects, making them feel too good about their potential marks to go through with their nasty deal?

In any case, it's naive to imagine that people don't take advantage of the oxytocin response all the time without realizing it. What are salespeople told to do? " Build rapport with your customer." Great salespeople know instinctively how to create a sense of trust with their prospects, that is, how to get the oxytocin flowing, along with the norepinephrine of anticipation. When a man who's not interested in a relationship romances  a woman to get her to go to bed with him, he's abusing her oxytocin response. (I'm not being sexist -- this is a case where men's bodies don't work quite the same way as women's.)

It's natural for humans to interact in ways that build trust; we want to do it, because we're wired for it to feel good. As long as we don't lie, it's not abuse. And I don't think we'll have a chemical version of trust available for abuse any time soon.

Oxy Sniff Patent Just in Time

In today's news, researchers at the University of Zurich found that snorts of oxytocin increased the sense of trust among people playing an investment game. As Stefan Lofgren reports in National Geographic News,

To test the trusting effect of oxytocin, the researchers studied people who played an investment game. In the game, participants would choose how much money to hand over to a trustee. Investors were far more trusting after inhaling the hormone, researchers found.

Co-authors Markus Heinrichs and Michael Kosfeldsaid the study had implications for treating anxiety disorders; Heinrichs has several such studies underway.

As far back as 2001, Heinrichs was looking at how social support and oxytocin interact -- also using that nasal spray method.